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Madera chief answered critics

Madera County Historical Society

This sign at the corner of Gateway and Yosemite seems to be pointing to the route that protesters wanted to take in 1932 to carry their message into Madera.


In 1932, Madera had an experience with protestors. We wrote about it in our last column, and that episode from our distant past didn’t sit well with some. A few pointed out that the treatment meted out to the marchers was harsh, especially since the Great Depression had hit, and these people were simply trying to survive by appealing to the government for assistance.

The critics contended that turning the fire hoses on the demonstrators once was inhumane, and doing it twice was outrageous. Unfortunately, we didn’t tell the whole story then. We would like to take care of that today.

In our midweek edition, we told how some marchers came through Madera on their way to Sacramento, making demands for room and board. We also told of the response they got here. Not only did the city refuse their demands, the fire department turned the water hose on them twice. They left the next day.

After that story was filed with The Tribune, this writer found a letter that had been written to the paper on Jan. 8, 1932 by the Chief of Police, Logan Wells. It sheds a much different light on the nature of the confrontation. The marchers weren’t just looking for a helping hand. Here is what the Chief had to say.

“Some time back, the so-called ‘Unemployed Councils of California’ wrote to Mayor Gordon from their supposed headquarters in San Francisco stating that thousands of unemployed workers would march to Sacramento to lay their demands before Governor Rolph. The letter urged him to make arrangements for food and a night’s lodging during their overnight stay in this city.”

“The Mayor, according to the instructions of the City Council, informed the advance agent tor this organization that the city could not accede to any such demands, as all available funds were needed for bona fide local needs. The committee of the so-called ‘hunger marchers’ then proceeded to secure a hall for their local stay. When the marchers arrived at the southern limits of the city, they were told where the hall was, two blocks east and two blocks north from where they were. They moved their trucks and automobiles to the east of the railroad tracks but stated that they wished to wait for their advance agent before going to the hall.”

“When he came, the leaders of the party began forming ‘huddles’ and coming out of such with different propositions — first to go through the business part of town with their trucks and banners, then with their trucks without banners, then on foot. It was explained to them that no procession or parade could be held without a permit from the city council. The man who acted most actively as their leader, and who had acted as their advance guard, admitted that he had never applied to the city council for a permit; there was no one present there at the time who could grant a permit, and this was explained to them. The leaders then stated that they had a statement to make with all the ‘hunger marchers’ present.”

“They then called all of the party together, most of whom had been sitting in the trucks east of the tracks. They then stated to the crowd that they were forbidden to parade but put it up to the crowd whether they wanted to go anyway. They put it to a vote, all voting in favor of going and saying that nothing would stop them.”

“When they started on foot north on F street, I came into town and took measures to stop this unlawful assemblage, for which I am now criticized, and succeeded in stopping them from going on Yosemite avenue. The marchers deliberately started hurling rocks, and that is when the stream of water came.”

“What would the critics do? Allow the open and deliberate defiance of law, which would have meant further defiance later on? Club the ‘hunger marchers’? Jail them or their leaders, to whom a jail sentence is a mere vacation, or what? Those who think there was anything cruel about the means taken, need only to reflect that it would have been very easy to avoid trouble by ceasing to defy the law.”

“J. L. WELLS. Chief of Police, City of Madera”

By now, of course, the reader knows that the criticism of that action taken in Madera against the protestors was raised 88 years ago, not this week. It came from some who were living at the time.

I just wonder who they were and where they lived.

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